On the road: Stephen Strasburg comes to Cleveland


Strasburg pitches.JPGWhen I first realized that Stephen Strasburg was going to make his second start in beautiful downtown Cleveland, Ohio, my first thought was: I should get me some tickets. About an hour after that first thought, I got an email from Rob Campbell, future Cleveland Indians GM, inviting me to sit in the Tribe Social Deck for the game. Hmmm, free tickets or no free tickets, what should I do . . . I’m pretty sure I responded to Rob in approximately 4.2 seconds.

As Drew noted yesterday Strasburg was still throwing serious heat and, even if it wasn’t nearly as good as his debut, he didn’t exactly do anything to shake the planet’s confidence in the young man.  I personally enjoyed the hell of the game. Random observations after the jump . . .

I got to Cleveland just before noon after a mostly uneventful drive from Columbus. Sadly, Grandpa’s Cheese Barn (located in Ashland, Ohio, which is seriously billed as “The World Headquarters of Nice People”) was closed. Instead I had to stop at the Goasis travel plaza. The place is absolutely redonkulous. It has a Pizza Hut Express, a Popeyes, a Taco Bell, a Starbucks and a convenience store that is larger than pre-1980s grocery stores. The Goasis is everything that is both so very, very wrong and so very, very right about America. I got a bean burrito and a bottle of water (the bean burrito was the wrong part, but I had one or two cocktails too many on Saturday night, so it was very, very necessary.

Last month when I came to Cleveland for a game the garage I like to park in on Huron Street was charging $10. Yesterday it was $15. The Strasburg Effect is apparently limitless.

Lots of Stephen Strasburg shirts on the plaza between Quicken Arena and the ballpark. I’m sure they weren’t all worn by people who drove up from Washington, so you figure there’s a lot of people caught up in the hysteria. My first thought when I saw them all was whether people would have been snapping up David Clyde shirts back in 1973. Yeah, you and I know Strasburg is a different brand of pitcher than Clyde was, but I kinda doubt a lot of the people in the shirts would have been able to explain the difference. On some level hype trumps everything.

You pick up Social Deck tickets at the Gate B will call. Which is the only will call window at the ballpark.  When I got there, I was greeted by quite a line:
will call line.JPGAnd it stretched way back from what you could see in the pic. Not the smoothest operation, most likely because the Indians forgot what it was like to have a near full house at the joint.  Confession: the “S-T” line was much shorter than the “A-J” line, so I hopped in it, figuring I’d play dumb and say “Social Deck” when I got to the window, even though I knew full well that they had the tickets reserved by last name. The guy at the window just looked at me like I was a piece of garbage and he was right to do so. Still, he got me my tickets because this is the Midwest and we tend to do the weary, put-upon, silently-think-less-of-you thing better than we do open hostility.

Oh, one other will call thing: I overheard the guys behind me in line — a couple of early twenty somethings who could have been athletes — and based on their conversation it was obvious that Strasburg had left them tickets. “They’d better be under his name and not ours, dude, because I’m not waiting in that other line.”

Walking around the concourse for a bit I talked to a middle aged couple wearing Nats jerseys. I asked them if they came here from D.C. They said they were from Strongsville (a Cleveland suburb), and that they were the only Nats fans they knew in Ohio. I asked them how they became Nats fans and the guy said that he worked in Montreal for a while about 15 years ago and got hooked on the Expos, so he just followed them over. I had no idea that any old Expos fans made the jump like that.

Paul Cousineau of The DiaTribe and Beyond the Box Score showed up to the Deck with his brother. He had his own will call story: as he was waiting in line he saw the new Cleveland Browns’ QB Colt McCoy being let in the media gate. Paul: “If he’s six feet tall then so am I.” note: Paul is not six feet tall. Good luck Browns fans!  By the way, Paul is just about the best Indians blogger out there, so definitely check him out.

David Huff got the start for the Tribe. His warmup music is “God’s gonna cut you down” by Johnny Cash. I can’t think of a pitcher who deserves that song less than David Huff, but I’m glad to see that his weekly shellackings aren’t affecting his confidence.

When I saw Aroldis Chapman a couple of weeks ago it took him an inning or two to loosen things up and get to the high 90s. Strasburg was there right out of the gate, hitting 99 on his first pitch and then 100 within just a couple. There was an audible “oooh” in Progressive Field when he started bringing that stuff. His windup and motion seems way too easy to be throwing that hard. I’m pretty sure if he took his shirt off it would reveal that he’s powered by an arc generator.

Social Deck.JPGCool thing about the Social Deck: there’s a little flat screen TV right there. Even better: the HD broadcast is on, like, a five second delay, so it was like having instant replay for every pitch. This was absolutely indispensable in figuring out how Strasburg was doing. Even more indispensable for the play in which Adam Dunn barreled Carlos Santana over. Everyone in the crowd was watching the ball go down the right field line and missed the collision the first time. Having the replay of it while in the park rocked.

Travis Hafner hit a homer off Strasburg in the second inning. The ball was down and in and he just golfed it. When he did it, Cousineau and I assumed he guessed at it. After the game Hafner admitted that with this kid you just have to assume the fastball and hope for the best.

A drunk guy in the bleachers behind us was taunting Josh Willingham, who got the start in left field for the Nats. “Hey 1-6!! You suck!!”  Who the hell taunts Josh Willingham? I hate people sometimes.

For all of Strasburg’s great pitches, one was notable by its near absence: the changeup. He threw his heat and he threw tons of mow-to-mid 80s curves, but there were hardly any of those low-90s changeups he featured in his debut. Maybe a few of what I’m calling curves were changeups, but if they were they were much different than before. Did someone tell him to slow it down, or did he just not have the feel for it yesterday?

Browns’ receiver/kick returner Josh Cribbs was at the ballpark. When they put him on the jumbotron he got the loudest cheer of the game. It’s been forgotten since the Bernie Kosar days, but Cleveland will always be a Browns town before anything else.

It was widely reported after the game, but Strasburg’s issues with the mound were fairly entertaining. After the fact it became clear that he had a legitimate beef with the condition of the mound, but in the park at the time it wasn’t clear (neither Huff nor any of the relievers, righties or lefties, had any apparent issues).  The boos he got were because everyone thought he was being a prima donna. I think he might have been frustrated that he wasn’t getting borderline calls on the corner either, but no matter how big a wheel he is he’s still a rookie, so he had best get used to that.

I figured that the place would empty out once Strasburg was pulled, but they hung around to watch Drew Storen, who was pretty impressive in his own right, get out of the bases loaded jam in the sixth.  A lot of folks streamed out of there once the sixth ended. In all, there was 32,800 at the game, which is about double what the team could usually expect for a Sunday tilt with the Nats.  The loss sucked for the Tribe, but the money is a nice consolation prize.

All in all a nice day at the Jake. Baseball cold beers, hot sun and the Second Coming of Christ on the mound.  Beats running through the sprinkler, doesn’t it?

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.

Marlins announcer Tommy Hutton was let go because he was “too negative”

marlins logo wide

We heard earlier this week that Marlins television analyst Tommy Hutton was let go after 19 seasons on the job. By all accounts, he’s well-liked and respected, so it smelled a little fishy with a team that has owner Jeffrey Loria calling the shots. Well, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald was told by a source close to the Marlins that Hutton was let go because he was “too negative.”

Jackson was also able to get in touch with Hutton, who provided some details about how things went down.

“I know there were times I was negative, but I thought those times were called for,” he said. “Ninety percent of what I said was positive. I tried not to be a homer, but you could tell I wanted the Marlins to do well.”

After being told that his salary wasn’t a factor in the decision, Hutton suspected that his candid, blunt analysis might be the impetus for his ouster.

So after learning his fate on Monday, he asked that question – whether they thought he was too negative — to both a Fox producer (at a meeting at Starbucks) and the Marlins’ vice president/communications (by phone).

He said the question was met with silence by both executives.

“I couldn’t get a yes or a no,” he said.

Hutton said there were three incident in recent years where he was told the Marlins were uncomfortable with something he said. He disclosed one example where he was exasperated at the ballpark’s dimensions after former catcher John Buck flew out to the warning track for the final out of a game. He was told by a Marlins vice president after the game that Loria prefer he not talk about the ballpark’s dimensions. Of course, the team is moving in the fences this winter.

To be clear, Hutton said he was told it was a “mutual decision” between the Marlins and FOX to let him go, but Jackson’s source hears that the concern about his “negativity” came from the team.

Hey, do you know the best way to prevent “negative” talk about your team? Fielding a winning baseball team without a dysfunctional ownership and front office. Crazy idea, I know, but it could be cool?

Report: Indians have been in touch with Shane Victorino

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 01:  Shane Victorino #18 of the Los Angeles Angels makes a catch for an out against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on August 1, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Outfield is a glaring need for the Indians, but they aren’t expected to shop for any of the big names on the free agent market. Instead, they are looking at potential bargains on short-term deals. Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that Shane Victorino falls under this classification and that the veteran outfielder is among many names the Indians have contacted.

Victorino, who turns 35 on Monday, has been limited to just 101 games over the past two seasons due to injury. Coming off back surgery, he batted just .230/.308/.292 with one home run and seven RBI over 204 plate appearances this past season between the Red Sox and Angels while battling calf and hamstring injuries. It’s hard to see the upside at this point, but the Indians could promise him regular at-bats, especially with Michael Brantley likely to miss the start of the 2016 season following shoulder surgery.

The Indians have also reportedly discussed trading either Danny Salazar or Carlos Carrasco for a bat, which represents their best chance of adding a big name to their outfield this winter.